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Karlovy 2008 Remains Faithful to Tradition of Rewarding Unknowns

A star studded jury confronted with a slate of second rate films in the international competition section (par for the course at Karlovy Vary because more important festivals gobble up the better films) had to sweat it out for five hours before arriving at their decisions on the main awards. The Grand jury composed of such luminaries as British actress Brenda Blethyn, Dutch star Johanna Ter Steege (The Vanishing), ace Hungarian-American camerman Vilmos Zsigmond, and presided over by Czech-American director Ivan Passer (who fled Communist Czechoslovakia in the sixties along with Milos Forman) presented a register of names far better known to film professionals than the eventual prize winners.

A little known Danish director, Henrik Ruben Genz, walked off with the Grand Prix (Crystal Globe),
worth 20,000 dollars cash for a surrealistic semi-Western police picture entitled "Frygtelig Lykkelig" (Terribly Happy), and a Special Jury Prize worth 29,000 dollars went to the Indonesian entry "The Photograph" by femme director Nam Triveni Nachas (Euchemenical award as well). The best director prize was awarded to Russian director Alexei Uchitel for his Chechen war story "The Captive" and the best actor and best actress awards were both bestowed upon two young Czech thespians, Jiří Madl and Martha Issová, for their teamwork in a rather pedestrian Czech coming-of-age story entitled "Děti Noci" (Children of the Night or "Night Owls") by distaff director Michaela Pavlátová. A far more interesting Czech film, "The Karamazovs", which is a semi-documentary dealing with an alternate theater stage adaptation of the famous Dostoyevsky novel, directed by Peter Zelenka, was singled out for Special Mention along with another unconventional police story, the Hungarian film "A Nyomozo" (The Detective), directed by Attila Grigor. Sexy British actress Saffrron Burrows, a Karlovy favorite in recent years, turned in a strong performance as a beautiful young woman with a fatal disease in Amy Redford's "The Guitar", but was overlooked, probably because the film itself was rather flaccid.

In the "East of West" section, which showcases films from the former Soviet Bloc countries,"Tulpan", a multi-national co-production from Kazakhstan was awarded a $10,000 cash prize by a different jury, and
the international film critics (FIPRESCI) jury named "Karamazovs" as their Best Film. One thing Karlovy Vary has plenty of is juries, seven in all this year, to wit:
The Grand Jury (International competition), seven members; Documentary competition (5 members); Euchemenical (Catholic) jury, (three members); East of West competition (5 members);Independent camera (three members); European Cinema Label (4 members); FIPRESCI, 5 members) -- which comes to a total body count of thirty jurors dishing out a hodge-podge of value judgments! The festival could probably do with a few less jurors and a few more good films. However dull sessions in the dark are compensated for by a thriving social life in the lobbies, corridors, cafes, and terraces of the Thermal Hotel, the daily cocktail receptions by one film group or another and the general festive atmosphere all over town.
The weather this year was uncharacteristically wet and chilly cutting down on the swimming pool action and moved some of the normally outdoor festivities indoors.

With the Grand Jury president, Czech-born Ivan Passer, picking up a special career crystal globe for his "Outstanding artistic contribution to World Cinema" (along with DeNiro earlier, and Juraj Jakubisko, director of the new Czech historical blockbuster "Bathory"), plus the two best acting prizes for the young protagonists of the Czech film "Night Owls" and the prestigious FIPRESCI award going to the Czech film "Karamazovi", 2008 can be said to have been a banner year for home-grown local talent. The Chinese are probably hoping they will do as well in Beijing next month.

Alex Deleon, cooling it at the Globe bookstore in drizzly downtown Prague.
July 15, 2008

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